Since turning 60 last Summer, I’ve becoming more interested in the process of getting old(er). While the physical changes are undeniable and inevitable, their rate of onset isn’t necessarily fixed in stone, and much can be done to slow down the process (nutrition, exercise, etc.). The psychological dimension is another thing though.
A number of my friends have retired early. They fill their days with many banal activities; former “hobbies” that have now assumed a much greater role in their lives: Stamp collecting, bird watching, long road-trips, reading, Sudoku, crossword puzzles, etc. Not that there’s anything wrong with these activities per se, it’s just that they are insufficient to maintain a mental edge the way working in a productive environment surrounded by young people who constantly challenge you can.
My own plan is to die on the job; taken out horizontally, fingers still scrolling and texting on my iPhone. My idol in this sense is the architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who having already been written off in his ’60s as a has-been, stunned the architectural world be designing and building his masterpiece, the Guggenheim Museum at age 92!
In my humble opinion, the first step to forestalling old age then is to work productively at something you enjoy and that is validated by society through substantial remuneration. It should also bring you in contact with young people whom you empower to kick your intellectual ass on a regular basis. Teaching at a university springs to mind as an interesting option.
The second step is to make sure your stuff is either in very good shape or current. There is a difference between antiques and junk. I have noticed that old people often settle into a material mustiness; their furniture is old, creaky, worn, poorly maintained, and uncomfortable. Their clothing dates back several decades, as do their cars, TV’s, home, etc. Don’t get me wrong, the stuff still works “well-enough” for them….although in reality, not very well at all. It’s just that they have lowered their standards and expectations; often they can’t see well enough to notice the changes, are resistant to their kids telling them, or are just plain cheap, wearing frugality as some badge of honour. Their stuff becomes a reflection and metaphor of their old age.
The third step is to embrace technology and stay on top of it. My mother in-law got her first laptop about seven years ago at age 85! She has learned to email, manage photos, and browse the net for stuff related to her hobbies. She often sends me racy jokes or forwards interesting stuff from her internet-savvy buddies. At 92 she’s still damned sharp and a joy to have a discussion with. I am still blown away by people in their 50′s and 60′s who don’t email and still go to the bank for regular, simple transactions. They have voicemail….but rarely check it, rendering it useless for others to leave them a message. Embracing the constant learning curve necessitated by technology is a great way to stay sharp.